When you’re an adult, contentment feels akin to a series of trick shots
A Rube Goldberg machine, in its purest form, is an overcomplication of a simple task. Through a series of well-timed, meticulous events, the contraption uses a chain reaction to achieve a goal. A sleeping person rolls over and knocks over a ping pong ball that then hits a set of dominos, which falls on a match that lights a fire, and the smoke alarm goes off — and suddenly you have a morning alarm. Voila!
I never took high school physics, personally, but it doesn’t take a physicist to be familiar with the concept of over-complicating simple tasks. As an overthinker, I am a natural Rube-Goldberg-type in my daily life. Aren’t we all?
As a university student, it feels like we have as many moving parts as your average machine. Many of us are trying to balance school, a social life, exercise, extracurricular activities, work, and a half-decent sleep schedule. If anyone has somehow mastered this delicate equilibrium, they might as well have discovered Pandora’s box.
There is a golden rule to Rube Goldberg machines: every part of them is integral to its goal. If the ping pong ball misses the dominos, or the match never starts the fire, the smoke alarm doesn’t go off. Likewise, if you work all day and night, you may end up sacrificing your sleep — which, by the way, is not the quirky or cute habit it is made to seem. Saying you slept four hours last night is not a flex. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Turns out, I’m a lot happier on a solid eight hours a night — I highly recommend it.
When you’re an adult, happiness feels akin to a series of trick shots. If I go to bed early enough, then I’ll feel okay in the morning. Except, I didn’t go to bed early enough, so I have to have a coffee. If I have a coffee, then I’ll feel jittery and that’s no good! Naturally, I’ll have to take a walk to burn some of this energy. Oh, shoot — I can’t! I have to read upwards of 40 pages and write a couple of essays — and maybe a couple of articles too, while I’m at it. I’ll wait till the evening to get some exercise in, if I have time to at all. In the meantime, I’ll be lightly shaking as I do some homework. If I finish everything, I’ll reward myself with some time to scroll through TikTok. Except I don’t finish everything on time, and I go to bed late again. Lather, rinse and repeat.
A good mood can feel the same way. If the sun is shining when I wake up, if I have some time to see my friends, if I read a good book, if I have a nice cup of tea — I’ll probably feel okay. But who has the time for all that? Anytime between September to May, I know I don’t. June through August are on thin ice, too.
Basically, if A, then B, then C, then maybe D… all the way to Z. And then? Maybe I’ll be happy. It feels an awful lot like the dominos and ping pong balls of a Rube Goldberg machine, doesn’t it? It seems like I might actually have to be a physicist to master this contentment thing.
So, what can we do to make life easier as overcommitted, overworked, and overtired university students? Though I, too, don’t have it all figured out, I’ve discovered a few trade secrets that have helped me transition from drowning in commitments to treading water with the confidence of a Level 6 Swimmer — which I am, not to brag.
One: say no.
This is harder than it sounds. You don’t have to join every club, take every good opportunity that comes your way, or go above and beyond every single time. Don’t burn out. Don’t overcommit. In the long run, it’s better to do a few things well than many things half-decently. Quality over quantity.
Likewise, you may have to say no to the fun stuff too. FOMO, the feeling of insecurity over the possibility of missing out on something, is a real and fierce opponent. Nevertheless, if you’re going to do well in every area you’re trying to prioritize, you may have to say no to a few coffee dates — and that’s okay.
I don’t mean to say no to everything, though. Go to what counts and what sparks joy. Make memories. But, if you have a midterm you know you know nothing for, and your roommates are about to marathon all the Twilight movies for the second time, maybe sit that one out.
Two: don’t procrastinate.
If you have an assignment — at the risk of being flagged for copyright by Nike — I implore you just to do it. We all become masters of writing an essay in a day or a lab report in record time when we need to, but not without the expense of sleep or quality of the finished product. I am absolutely guilty of this, too. This is an easier said than done feat, one that I ironically have put off doing for years. Hopefully, this will be the year we all figure it out.
Three: find time for something you love.
Even though your schedule is already littered with far too many obligations, pencil in time for the activities that make you happy. This one is easy. For me, it’s romanticizing my life by dressing as if every otherwise normal commitment is an event. It’s making my downtime meaningful by finding time to go on runs, waking up early every so often to see sunrises with my best friends, making meals fun by cooking elaborate recipes, studying with friends in a different and interesting study spot every time, and squeezing in fluffy romance novels in with my comparatively dry political science textbooks.
Something I underestimated when I was at my most overcommitted was the importance of mental and physical health. Instead of being glued to a desk chair, find ways to get moving this semester. Sign up for an intramural, get to know your city (it’s really beautiful if you take a moment to appreciate it), or enlist someone as your official taking-walks-friend. Prioritize your health inside and out by making use of mental health resources on campus, knowing your limits, and being forgiving with yourself this academic year.
As the school year begins to engulf us in a deadline frenzy and it feels like you’re juggling a million things, try your best to not over-complicate your life. Find balance. Avoid burnout. It is not worth it to sacrifice sleep, physical activity, mental health, your social life, or your academic performance while trying to overextend yourself in one sphere of your life. Like the Rube Goldberg machine, where every part of the apparatus is essential, every sphere of your life is essential, too.